by Burton Cantara, Quilt staff
DATELINE: ELKWOOD STREET
Walk of Hearts, an organization honoring local teachers for “their dedication and impact they have on a student’s life,” has rejected an application submitted by Steve Zehmisch, 59, of Elkwood Street, nominating a former resident of Canoga Park.
|Steve Zehmisch's senior portrait from|
Headwaters '73, the CPHS yearbook.
“It was the long, hot summer of 1972,” begins the essay portion of Zehmisch’s application. “Pushing a heavy mower all day over neighbors’ lawns for extra pocket money had transformed my lean, lanky frame into something that some might have described as ‘strapping.’ My full, virile, Jon-Voight-in-Deliverance sideburns evidently helped to further obfuscate the immaturity, the callow youthfulness of this soon-to-be Canoga Park High senior.”
Zehmisch, now a dispatcher with Peppy Plumbers on Saticoy, said he was inspired to submit an application after cleaning out the attic of his house following the recent breakup of his marriage and coming across old mementos of that summer forty-two years ago.
“Mrs. Knudsen, a young divorcée - rare in those days - had moved into the neighborhood just before Christmas the previous year. All the housewives on the block were outwardly polite to her, but gossiped about the tall, sophisticated redhead mercilessly behind her back. I have a feeling she knew and couldn’t care less.”
“I have a couple kids of my own now,” Zehmisch tells the Quilt. “My boy’s a sergeant in the Air Force, and my daughter works at some computer company in the Bay Area as the CFO or something. Spends too much time at that job, if you ask me. I tell her ‘What’s more important, your job or your marriage? You’re not careful, your husband’s going to leave you.’ She doesn’t listen. My son, though, he’s doing great! Career Air Force man. I always told him, ‘The ladies love an Air Force man.’”
“Each week as I mowed her backyard, she’d watch me from the patio, taking slow, deliberate drags off an Eve cigarette, occasionally tapping the ash into a green 7-Up ashtray that clipped onto the arm of her nylon-webbed aluminum lawn chair. She’d duck inside just as I was finishing up, only to reappear moments later in a tiny white two-piece bathing suit and carrying a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and two Dixie riddle cups. That was the summer that Mrs. Knudsen taught me how to love - taught me what it means to be a man.”
The application is unique in that its essay section goes on for more than three dozen pages, citing very specific instances of supposed “teaching” and many, many more thousands of words than the application’s recommended 150 limit. Despite Zehmisch’s thoroughness in completing the application, research turns up no evidence whatsoever that Knudsen was ever employed by area schools in any capacity. She is therefore automatically ineligible for recognition by the local organization.
|Zehmisch's application was not well-received. Undaunted, he says he thinks|
that he may "go the e-book route instead." Photo courtesy Steve Zehmisch.
“No, no, no. This is absolutely not something we’d feature on Walk of Hearts. No, no, no, no, no. I can’t even begin to tell you how inappropriate this is. And the woman nominated was not even a teacher, thank God,” exclaims Walk of Hearts spokesperson Elaine Conklin, “Thank God for that.”
Julie Knudsen, now estimated to be in her mid seventies, moved out of the otherwise tight-knit neighborhood “sometime in the early 1980s,” according to former neighbor Dot Ehrmann, and was unable to be reached for comment.
“Joan next door told me she and Bob saw her about twenty years ago in some casino up in Reno,” Ehrmann says. “She was a cocktail waitress. Hmph! You know what that means!”